Sept. 22, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Herseth Sandlin Goes to War as New Blue Dog Voice

The first female Speaker’s famous iron grip on her Caucus has been shaken lately by another woman.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made passing a jobs agenda her top priority this year, but an anti-deficit insurgency led by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), the administrative co-chairwoman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, has forced Pelosi to scale back her ambitions.

With concerns about deficits rising and rank-and-file Democrats fearing losses in November, Blue Dog clout has soared in recent weeks, and liberal priorities from health care benefits for the jobless to tens of billions of dollars in aid to the states have ended up on the chopping block. In the tumult, Herseth Sandlin has emerged to head a new generation of Blue Dogs as old-guard members such as Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) are heading for the exits or lowering their profiles.

The pivotal moment came shortly before the Memorial Day recess, with Pelosi planning to push through a nearly $200 billion package of tax cut extensions, doctor payments, jobless benefits and state aid. But Herseth Sandlin warned the measure didn’t have the votes and would have to be trimmed significantly.

“While we’ve been invited to share our concerns and leadership has listened, not everyone is hearing us,” she told reporters at the time.

Within a day, Democratic leaders were forced to carve their bill nearly in half in a mad scramble for votes.

And this week, the leadership’s plans for a war spending bill had to be cut back in the face of demands from Blue Dogs that add-on aid for states and money for the Pell Grant program be fully offset. The bill will include just $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs — less than half the amount sought by leadership and President Barack Obama.

“They are starting to hear us,” Herseth Sandlin said.

But the smaller pie is a big disappointment for members of Pelosi’s liberal inner circle, such as Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.).

“Sure, it’s frustrating,” Miller said, pointing to the continuing economic troubles as an emergency.

“There’s concern in the markets about what’s going on at the state level, and it’s counterproductive to do it the way they want to do it,” Miller said of the Blue Dogs.

The backlash is such that other liberals such as Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) have grumbled recently about paying their Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dues out of concern it will go to Blue Dog members and other candidates with more conservative agendas.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, ripped the idea that an emergency jobs package must be paid for, noting that the pay-as-you-go law championed by fiscal conservatives has an exception for emergencies.

“People desperately need jobs, and it’s a shame and a disgrace that it’s not declared an emergency,” Lee said.

But Herseth Sandlin said she is gratified to see a renewed interest in the deficit in the House, Senate and country as a whole. She said the issue has gone far beyond Blue Dogs.

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